Bandung to Bali XXi – Art deco and Agatha Christie – 21 May 1973

“Where are we dad? Is this a rainforest?”

“We’re half way there Chas. You can go back to sleep if you want”

Nothing in the flat green blue map of Java in our Atlas at home  could reveal the beauty of the mountains and rainforest between Jakarta and Bandung.

In my mind it is a simple line between two places, about as far as driving from home to Warrnambool Dad says – so I imagine that long straight road.

But this is far from the undulating golden expanse of the Western District.

Slowly my eyes trace slender trunks of palms and ghost grey shadows of enormous trees, thick trunks of bamboo rise out of the abyss which drops away from the roadside.

The road levels and a pale light slices across the valley through the thinning trees. We leave the forest and curve along the edge of a ravine. The mountains around us rise from a basin criss-crossed by layers, stacked as if some giant has dissected along each contour and then dropped each piece, slightly askew one on top of the other to create an exquisite cake.

Each layer ripples then steps and banks and finally forms a mosaic on the valley floor. The moon appears far below us and its light picks up one square of flooded field and then another as we hurry past. I strain to see this beauty, to be sure this is not just shadows.

“Are there rice paddies down there Dad?”

“Yes, they’re all the way down the mountain.”

I fall asleep enraptured by the moon, the glimpses of the terraces and the forest.

It is still dark when when I wake up.

Glimpse of the road from Jakarta to Bandung

Glimpse of the road from Jakarta to Bandung – photographed from the train June 2013

Low timber buildings, some painted and draped in deep canvas shades, stretch along the road. Tree lined suburban streets hide creamy bungalows with wide sloped rooves. Down the smaller streets loose untidy buildings jostle for space, packed and stacked with coloured board and sheeting.

We reach the centre of Bandung. The driver is in a new state of agitation as he points out important landmarks of our destination. “Jalan Asia-Afrika, Pak,” he says emphatically,”Jalan terbesar di Bandung. Jalan 1955. Bagus” Dad nods in appreciation for the history lesson.

Despite Dad’s negotiations the driver takes us directly to the Hotel Savoy Homann. “Bagus, bagus sekali Pak'” he insists with a look of dismay that he would deliver us to anywhere second rate.

‘Empat bintang!’ says the driver holding up four fingers to emphasise the quality of the place. Dad relents – he is too tired to argue.

The hotel’s soft coral façade is somehow familiar, like a spaceship sized version of an old seaside house in Geelong. We bail out of the bus half sore and weary, half wide awake.

We step straight into a vast atrium. Dark and cool, large fans on the ceiling gently shift the air up and through the internal cavity above the lobby. Pools of light are cast from copper lamps. Cool terracotta tiles and a broad iron staircase circles to the balcony adding light and space to the foyer. There is a gentle, dusty glow on the smooth as honey timberwork.

Despite the early hours two young women come to meet us and swoop on Johnny and Bart and lift them from Mum’s tired grasp. Their laughter rings like clear bells and their dark hair swirls neatly over their brows into tight buns at the nape of their neck.

They cup my face and feel my brown hair in its long ponytail.

‘Sangat cantik!–

They think I am pretty, I think to myself, when I am not and they are.

We follow the gentle swaying shapes of the women and the bobbing heads of the baby boys up the wonderful stairs. The dense dark spirals on the batik kian match the steps as they twist up and up. Lace bodices sit slightly out from their fine waists, wrapped beneath by a tight, thick band and their skirts follow down to above their ankles with a fan of pleats at the front.

“What is your name?” the young woman speaks softly in my ear.

‘Saya nama …’ I say proudly.

“Chas!” interrupts Matt,”This is like one of those hotels – you know – where you get murdered.”

He makes gurgling noises like he is being garrotted.

“Don’t be silly Matt,” I rebutt, but a little shiver goes up my spine.

This is exactly the sort of place Miss Marple would show up to have a bit of a holiday.

The set will be lit with a dull sheen over the arm chairs and deep shadows will be cast across the doorways.

She will arrive late to find an old colonel at the bar, a furtive couple arguing in the corner and a svelte young woman splayed across a chaise longe.

By the morning one of them would have been stabbed or poisoned or shot.

My gift from Cate – the book with its ghoulish doll’s head and strange patterned cover seems perfectly at home here.

We spill into a huge room filled with marvellously decorated beds. The wooden window shutters are closed and the room is dark and blissfully calm.

We slip off our shoes and without words find a bed each and draw ourselves under the light covers.

The sound of the bath running lulls me into a half sleep. I just keep an eye half open for the colonel.



The Savoy Homann Hotel was designed by Dutch architect Albert Aalbers who, in a radical re-assessment of the need for a break from the city’s classical colonial architecture, embraced an art deco future for Bandung.

The hotel was featured and made famous by the Asia-Afrika Conference of 1955 when the collective leaders of these great continents stayed in the Hotel. While the US shunned the conference African American writer, Richard Wright published The Color Curtain: A Report on the Bandung Conference following his time at the conference. The conference delegates unanimously incorporated the United Nations Charter in their 10-point “declaration on promotion of world peace and cooperation.

While I was avidly consuming Agatha Christie novels there weren’t the television series, so the books were very much an exploration of the imagination. The book covers by Tom Adams were so intriguing. He designed such superb surreal and slightly disturbing images with clues of the story inside.

A nice wordpress article on Agatha Christie is on Michael Burge’s blog where he gives a similar reaction to Tom Adams cover artwork

Some other background and images of the superbly enigmatic Bandung are from here

17 thoughts on “Bandung to Bali XXi – Art deco and Agatha Christie – 21 May 1973

  1. I like the helpful info you provide in your articles.
    I’ll bookmark your weblog and check again here regularly.
    I am quite sure I will learn a lot of new stuff
    right here! Good luck for the next!


    • Hi Ian – thanks for stopping by my blog. Look forward to reading what you have to say on London. I’d love to know the title of the book on Tom Adams covers – they’re fantastic artworks and, although I appreciated them at the time, I think coming back to them many years later gives a real recheck on just how good they were.


  2. I really enjoyed this post – the descriptions are gorgeously crafted, and yes i loved Agatha Christie as a young reader too. And trust the US to shun such a conference… nothing much has changed there!


    • Hi Dawn – how are you? My friend Cate and I were great Agatha Christie readers. She went on and became a real writer of crime and other beautiful work. Indonesia has swung back in favour with the US due to the ‘Obama effect’ since he lived there as a young lad – (so we have a little bit in common.)


      • Hi Dawn – yes his mum was quite an amazing woman and I think worked for an NGO for a while in Indonesia. I’ve just posted a couple of pics of your work today because I’m doing some environmental art this week (in a very modest way..) for the online course I’m on, so your work is such an inspiration. Has really got me thinking.


      • thanks Dawn – I’m not a face-booker so it’s nice to be introduced by you :>
        Have to get back to the course ‘test’ for the week – have got a little bit slack – I’m sure you would approve of their focus this week on the environmental artists.


      • Hi Dawn -I’m really enjoying the course – It might be a little too basic for a practicing artist like yourself – but it’s a great general introduction and push along for those of us with artistic inclinations but zero direction!


  3. I remember the AC covers very well. I suspect there are a some downstairs in storage. I read about everything I could of hers. I shared them with my mother. I think the first one I read was Cat amongst the Pigeons. I also remember the old B&W films like the 4.50 from Paddington with Margaret Rutherford. Happy days.


    • Hi Andrew – those books were so wonderful weren’t they? and I loved the Tom Adams covers – the Cat among the Pigeons cover was amazing. I might have to dig some of mine out and have another read actually…


  4. Another evocative installment of your story, Chas.
    I think there are still a number of art deco buildings there – the Dutch must have gone on a building spree just before the Pacific War.
    If my memory serves, the Savoy Homann was one my fiancee and I had a nosey around in 1998. At the back, there still stood the little cottage in which film-star-to-be Dirk Bogard stayed as a captain with the Indian Army during the short but bloody occupation after the Japanese surrender. It was said he kept his pet panther there with him!


    • Thanks so much Mike – I imagine the hotel must have so many stories to tell. It was quite a faded beauty I think when we were there and there were very few tourists about. My dad expected us to arrive in the day and find somewhere modest to stay, but instead we enjoyed the charm of this real architectural icon.


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